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Basic watchmaking tips - crystal fitting

  1. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 30, 2023

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    This is #10 in my series of basic watchmaking tips – the others can be found in the Watchmaking forum, or by searching on the "Basic watchmaking tips" title.

    Fitting crystals in wrist watches is a simple process, but there are several different types of crystals that are fitted in different ways, so I thought a thread to show the differing styles and some procedures would be helpful.

    The first thing before fitting any crystal is to make sure that the case that is receiving it is clean and free of debris where the crystal will seat.

    I will cover acrylic crystals first, and there are three basic types of crystals that are installed in different ways. The first are the fancy crystals – these are the rectangular crystals found on older watches, and these are primarily glued in place. There are two common glue types used for this – one is a product called GS Hypo Cement – this is a traditional style glue that hardens over time, but stays a little flexible. It’s basically like the old style model airplane glue, so it can be messy to use and creates little strings of glue, so it’s not one I use much really.

    I much prefer the UV glues – this glue isn’t nearly as stringy, it’s more fluid coming out of the syringe, and it gives you time to work and do some clean up if any gets on the crystal. The glue is set using sunlight, or if you are in a hurry, you can use a UV lamp. I’m guessing I was out of UV glue when I replaced this crystal:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Note that in addition to acrylic crystals, there are also glass crystals that are of the fancy type that would also be glued in place, and certainly there are round crystals that are glued in also.

    The next type of crystal is the compressed style. These are acrylic crystals that are compressed using a tool, then installed in the case, and then released from their compressed state. These crystals do not have tension rings, but will typically have a lip on them that fits into an angled recess in the case.

    There are two methods for installing these. One is the common crystal lift you may have seen – this is a clawed device that is used to compress the crystal for installation. Here’s an example with a smaller ladies watch:


    [​IMG]


    You first use the base of the crystal lift to set the crystal in, closing the slide so that the crystal will just lift out:

    [​IMG]

    Then the lift is placed over the crystal, and closed so the crystal is picked up – the base and use of the slide ensures that there is a small amount of the crystal that is sticking out below the jaws of the lift when you pick the crystal up:
    [​IMG]

    The crystal is inserted into the case, and the lift is released:

    [​IMG]

    Another method of installing this type of crystal, is to use the foot operated press that came with the old style crystal cabinets.

    This one is on the top of my old GS cabinet, and you select the correct die for the crystal diameter, and the correct plunger, and place the crystal in the die upside down:

    [​IMG]

    The case is then placed on top of the crystal, again upside down, and the foot pedal is used to bring the plunger down. This will force the crystal down into the die, shrinking the outside diameter of the crystal – the case is lowered onto the crystal, and the foot pedal released:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Note that this system also comes in a bench style press that is hand operated, rather than foot operated. Also note that this style doesn’t work with all cases, so only applies to watches where the case or bezel can have the plunger go through them, so some front loading cases you cannot use this type of system with.

    Before I move onto the tension ring (armored) style crystals, I wanted to say that there are plenty of other designs out there. One I come across is from the WWW pattern watches – this one is an IWC, and the crystal is held in the case by a threaded locking ring from the inside:

    [​IMG]

    To loosen this ring, I modified the case back opener I use, so ground away the sides of the prongs so that they cleared the inside of the case:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I can then use this to unscrew or screw in the locking ring for the crystal:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    From there, the crystal just lifts out:

    [​IMG]

    So just be aware that there are other styles that you may come across that I don’t cover here, but my focus is on the most common styles.

    Now to the tension ring or armored crystals. These are crystals where the silver, gold, red gold, black coloured metal ring sits inside the lower part of the crystal, and is integral to that crystal being held into the case. These crystals need the tension ring to lock them into the case. (There are some crystals that look similar, called reflector ring crystals, but on those the ring is not necessarily holding the crystal in place.)

    Installing the tension ring crystal requires a press. I use a Bergeon 6173 rack press, which you probably don’t need for acrylic crystals, but when we get to other types it is more critical. I’ve used other presses, but this one has excellent flatness of the dies and rigidity needed for installing crystals.

    To install the crystal, the case frame needs good and level support, so I usually find a die that fits snugly inside the case for the bottom. The top die should be for installing this specific type of crystal, so it will have a chamfer on the inside, like this one:

    [​IMG]

    You install the two dies in the press, place the case frame on the lower die, and the crystal on the case frame:

    [​IMG]

    You then press the crystal in, usually in one press – you may hear a snap when it installs:

    [​IMG]

    When selecting the upper die that is going to press on the crystal, I tend to use a die of roughly the same diameter at the crystal, so for a Speedmaster crystal that is 34.13 mm in diameter, I'll use a 34 mm die.

    The next style are crystals that are inserted into a case that has some sort of hard plastic seal. These can be mineral crystals, or sapphire crystals. Here I’ll use a Seamaster sapphire crystal installation to illustrate.

    [​IMG]

    The first thing I’ll say some may dispute, but this is how I was taught and how Omega views this – the hard plastic seals that are used for crystals are one time use only items. Now you can remove a crystal, and then press it back in using the same seal, but that seal will never hold as firmly as it did when it was used the first time. You may get away with it, but you may not, so I always default to a new seal. To show how this can be problematic, here is another Seamaster I serviced – I didn’t remove the crystal in this watch, so I left the seal intact that it came with. When I pressure tested the watch, the crystal leaked, building up pressure inside the case. When the pressure inside the test chamber was released, the pressure inside the watch case popped the crystal out of the case:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Once I replaced the seal, the watch passed the pressure testing fine, so it’s very likely that someone had removed the crystal, and used the seal over again.

    The seal almost always goes into the case first, and then the crystal is pressed in after. This is opposite to what you do with these hard plastic seals on a case back – you typically put the seal on the case back, then press both the seal and case back into the case. The seals will typically have a chamfer on it, that helps get the crystal started into the case, like this:

    [​IMG]

    The crystal is then placed on top of the case, and then you press it in:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    My advice here is to proceed slowly, and to turn the case/crystal on the lower die as you press, to make sure it’s going in evenly. This can be tricky to get right, and sometimes the crystal will not go in straight, and the seal will get pinched under the crystal – that looks like this:

    [​IMG]

    This is one reason that when I am buying a new crystal seal, I always buy them in 3’s, just in case the first doesn’t go well.

    When the crystal is fully seated, let it sit for a good 20 minutes. The seals will often bounce back a bit, and push the crystal up in the case, so they often need reseating after a time. Once the case has sat for a while, go back and press the crystal in again, like this:



    You can hear the very obvious “click” that indicates that the crystal has been seated again fully in the case. Of course you should always check this – here is a watch that came in like this, with the crystal not fully seated:

    [​IMG]

    I removed the crystal, and installed it again with a new seal, and it looked like this after:

    [​IMG]

    Now these are the common everyday methods that are out there, but there are no doubt exceptions to these as well. I will cover a couple of those exceptions with Omegas in mind, in a subsequent post.

    As always, questions are welcome.

    Cheers, Al
     
  2. alalalalongines Jan 30, 2023

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    Thank you very much, Al!

    How do you remove glued on crystals?
     
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  3. JimInOz Melbourne Australia Jan 30, 2023

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    Another great lesson to add to my "Al's Watchmaking Tips" Shortcut library.

    Thanks Al.
     
  4. FREDMAYCOIN Jan 30, 2023

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    I love all your contributions to the forum. Thanks again
     
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  5. SC1 Jan 30, 2023

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    I could read these all day... thank you Al, excellent as usual.
     
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  6. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 30, 2023

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    Well, often they can just be removed by pressing them out with your fingers, in particular if they are older. But if not, solvents are helpful to loosen the glue.
     
  7. kaplan Feb 1, 2023

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    Thank you, really enjoyed the article, especially the gasket section

    One suggestion I have is to buy cheap nylon dies and Dremel out a section for crown tubes - to use as bases, some watches come with crown tubes not cut, some how small sections protruding - using a die as it is sometimes bends the remaining sections inwards or pushes the tube out
     
  8. GuiltunderGlass Feb 1, 2023

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    Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this and all your other watchmaking posts!
    Fun and informative, look forward to future posts!
     
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  9. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Feb 1, 2023

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    Glad you are all finding these posts useful. :thumbsup:

    Moving on, here is one that's been covered before, and is a bit unusual - a mineral crystal held in with an O-ring. These are found in the Mark II Speedmasters, Flightmaster designs and others like this also. The crystals have a groove cut around the circumference of them, and this is where the O-ring seats as you can see on this Flightmaster crystal:

    [​IMG]

    Omega makes a tool for inserting these crystals, and here the tool is just past the crystal. The crystal has had the O-ring installed on it:

    [​IMG]

    The inside of the tool is lubricated with Fomblin grease, and the crystal is inserted into the tool:

    [​IMG]

    The tool is tapered on the inside, and as you press the crystal into it, the O-ring is compressed. There is a small groove on the inner diameter of the tool that acts as a stop - this leaves part of the crustal sticking out of the tool, to help locate the crystal in the case:

    [​IMG]

    The tool and crystal are positioned on the case, making sure to align the tachymeter scale on this one:

    [​IMG]

    You can start the insertion by pressing the crystal with your fingers, but I find using the press to finish it is best:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    This is honestly a terrible system, and you have all likely seen a watch where this O-ring has turned to black goop, and has caused damage to parts under it.
     
  10. RevZMan123 Feb 1, 2023

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    Enjoying? You are my inspirational muse! Thanks a million and a half times infinity.
     
  11. TexOmega Feb 1, 2023

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    I always enjoy your postings and your pictures are the cherry on top.:thumbsup:
     
  12. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Feb 1, 2023

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    Here's another unusual system on a vintage watch - this is a Seamaster 120, case number 166.088. In this photo, you can see the old hard plastic gasket, which has really yellowed. The other arrow points to an inner bezel, and this is where this design varies from many others:

    [​IMG]

    That inner bezel holds the plastic gasket in place, so it must be pressed out to change the gasket:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    This is what the inner bezel looks like in profile:

    [​IMG]

    Here are the new "L" cross section gaskets:

    [​IMG]

    From left to right, the case, the crystal, the inner bezel, and the gasket:

    [​IMG]

    Now with vintage watches, often there are no instructions dealing with the assembly, and since this is the first one of these I've replaced the gasket in, I had to determine the correct procedure on the fly. So I'll take you on the journey...

    My first thought was to use the same procedure I'm used to, so I installed the seal in the case first:

    [​IMG]

    But it was clear that inserting the inner bezel with the gasket in the case, was going to be very difficult. So the next thing was to assemble those two parts together, and press them into the case at the same time:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Once I pressed those in, it quickly became apparent that now trying to insert the crystal was going to be impossible. The crystal is a square profile, so there's no chamfer or lead in of any kind on the bottom to assist the crystal in getting started in the gasket. The same with the gasket - if you recall the hard plastic green gasket I showed previously has a chamfer in it to help guide the crystal in place, but this had nothing like that.

    [​IMG]

    So the next thing was to assemble 3 parts before pressing it in - the ring is pressed into the gasket, and the crystal is installed on top, and this little stack is pressed in all at once:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Success:

    [​IMG]

    So along the way you will find things that are unusual, because if there's an oddball way of accomplishing something, it seems a watch designer has probably used it at one time or another. So all I can say is, if you find yourself looking at an unfamiliar case construction, take your time and look it over, and usually the method to deal with it will come.

    Cheers, Al
     
  13. noless Feb 1, 2023

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    I encountered this design on the 168.057 C-cases as well.

    Took me a little while to work it out. I eventually managed to get a piece of sapphire in to replace the heavily scratched mineral glass.
     
  14. rahul718 Jun 4, 2023

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    Super insightful post, thanks for sharing. For the modern Omega divers using a sapphire crystal, is it possible for the crystal to be “pushed too far in”? Or the furthest it would go would be flush on the inside lip?

    Theoretically, if someone were to keep pressing it in (beyond the resting point of the inner case lip) could the sapphire crystal exert enough pressure to deform the stainless steel lip of the case or would the crystal deform first?
     
  15. kaplan Jun 4, 2023

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    I once tested this on a test watch, generally it's a good idea to assess the limits of a method before testing it on an actual watch, but not in this case, the sapphire splinters and throws pieces like a fragmentation bomb - so probably no damage to the case but damage to you
     
  16. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jun 5, 2023

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    The crystal would fail before the case was damaged...
     
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  17. Davidt Aug 5, 2023

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    Thanks for posting these @Archer, great read and really informative.
    Do you (or anyone else) have a recommendation for a reasonably priced crystal press, generally for fitting crystals with tension rings to 60’s Omegas?
    I’ve bought one of the dirt cheap ones from eBay and while it’s ok for bezel fitting it’s terrible for crystals. It applies more pressure at one side and the crystal is always install unevenly, with one side not properly seated.
     
  18. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Aug 5, 2023

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    What does reasonably priced mean?
     
  19. Davidt Aug 5, 2023

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    Fair question.

    I was hoping for around £50 given I’m a hobbyist who might only do a handful a year. However, given a crystal can cost £50 I’m more concerned with ensuring I get one that can do the job.
    For example, I’ve found this on Cousins UK for £99 and was considering this one

    4D4D4EDE-16EA-48F6-9D78-D5DFAD969A13.png
     
  20. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Aug 5, 2023

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    I'm not generally a fan of the screw down style, as I prefer a lever style. But it really comes down to how accurately machined the parts are, and if the dies is parallel to the base. I have no experience with this specific model, but I did have a Horotec lever style press that was good for acrylic crystals - not so much for thick dive watch crystals.

    Note that the dies on this one are for case backs, so you would have to get a set of tension ring crystal dies.